on feather beds shall we go to heaven,” said St. Thomas Moore,
and this is one of Lt. Col. (Retired) Andrew Watt’s favorite
quotations. It foreshadows his life. A Member of the Order of
the British Empire (MBE), he was born in Lansdowne, India, in a
military hill station “at eight and a half thousand feet, with
a hurricane lamp and a Gurkha midwife,” according to his
mother. There was no feather bed. His father was an officer in
the British-India Army before India gained independence in 1947.
Afterwards the family returned to England, and his father became
a member of the Royal Artillery.
A bit of a history lesson is indicated for
those of you who may be like me, and aren’t familiar with the
Gurkhas. A martial tribe of highlanders from Nepal, they fought
against the British while defending Nepal in the 1800s. The
British, however, were so impressed with their fighting ability
that they were asked to join the British Army. Today they remain
a small part of that army.
Back in England, young Andrew attended
Beaumont College in Windsor, a Jesuit institution. He absorbed a
wealth of knowledge through Jesuit teachers for ten years, and
considers himself “incredibly lucky” to have found the
Jesuit fathers of Seven Fountains Spirituality Center here in
Chiang Mai. After Beaumont, he attended the Royal Military
Academy at Sandhurst for two years of cadet training for his own
military career as an officer with the 10th
(Princess Mary’s Own) Gurkha Rifles.
He was sent to Malaysia and spent the next
five years in operations against the “Undeclared War”. He
considers this a military success story, unlike the conflict
between the United States and its allies against North Vietnam.
He tells a story of chatter between an unidentified American
pilot and himself during this era. The radio contact between the
pilot and his base broke into the radio that Andrew was using
and they bantered good-naturedly about interrupting each
other’s war. Calling one another “Limey” and “Yank”,
the pilot complained that they had a war to fight and were too
busy to talk. But Andrew quipped that they also had a war to
fight, and “we’re winning ours”. Many years later, he saw
the story of that exchange written up in the Readers’
Andrew went from the Undeclared War to Hong
Kong and the 1967 Cultural Revolution. Military hot spots were
his forte. China was fragmented during the Cultural Revolution,
and sometimes the official policy was not the policy implemented
in the provinces. Many Chinese people tried illegally to cross
the border into Hong Kong, and Andrew spent fourteen years
working on that border.
Two years were spent in Brunei, and a tour of
Cypress followed during the 1974 invasion by Turkey. He spent
time in Germany and Katmandu. Time passed and with it came the
end of the Cold War. The British military was reduced by one
third. This was Lt. Col. Watt’s opportunity to retire from the
military after a distinguished thirty-one year career. He
returned to England.
But like a lot of young retirees, Andrew
didn’t stay retired. He spent ten years with the Ministry of
Defense in the United Kingdom as a civil employee, a Retired
Officer (RO), and became very involved with the welfare of
Gurkhas who had served military time but had no pension. The
Gurkha Welfare Trust became a primary interest, and he gave
lectures to Rotary Clubs, Masons and other service organizations
to generate interest and donations to the fund. He organized
charity events to benefit the Trust. He spread the word – the
Gurkhas served our country; they need our help. Their one time
only severance pay has run out.
He also volunteered with the Home Office as a
Prison Visitor. His job was to interview perpetrators of sex
crimes, primarily rapists and pedophiles, and make
recommendations as to their placement within the prison setting.
Most requested protective custody to protect them from the rest
of the prison population, who are noted for being intolerant of
this type of crime. In the course of this volunteer work, he was
shocked by the amount of illegal drugs coming into the prisons
and being used by prisoners, and equally shocked by the numbers
of people on remand. Remanded prisoners are people accused of
crimes, but not yet tried or convicted. Some spend over a year
on remand, and are released for time served if they are
eventually convicted. Because they have been convicted of no
crime during the period of remand, they receive no treatment for
substance abuse or other problems, and no job training. They are
sure to become recidivists in the criminal justice system.
Andrew and his wife, Pippa, had vacationed in
Thailand off and on since 1976 and they simply fell in love with
Chiang Mai. When he finally decided to retire, it made no sense
to them to commute between two countries. They came here to live
in 2004. He began to spend his days playing golf, working out,
participating in the activities at church and looking for
worthwhile charity projects. Then The Letter arrived, most
10 Downing Street announced that Lt. Col.
Andrew Watt’s name was being sent to Her Majesty for
consideration of the MBE award because of his service to the
Brigade of Gurkhas. The results of Her Majesty’s decision
would be announced in the London Gazette on December 31,
2004. And they very happily were.
So the Andrew Watt family and friends met in Bangkok for this
most prestigious occasion. The British Ambassador awarded the
MBE to Andrew, and all of them celebrated. Then Andrew and Pippa
came back to Chiang Mai and continued their new life. He has
learned about the “Thai yes” and is earnestly practicing
‘jai yen’. After a long military career, it’s a difficult
skill to acquire. He isn’t looking for feather beds or heaven
just yet, but he knows that Chiang Mai is very close to finding
both on earth.